How to navigate the challenges of hybrid working: Advice for employers
Hybrid working; essential for a better work-life balance, or productivity inhibitor?
Everybody has differing views of the hybrid work model, but there’s one thing that’s undeniable: It’s everywhere, and it doesn’t look like it’s going away…
Morgan McKinley recently conducted research to gather insights about various hiring and workplace trends by surveying over 3400 professionals and 650 employers/hiring managers globally.
We found that 1-2 days in the office is the favoured weekly working pattern for 43% of professionals, with a further 29% selecting 3-4 days. Only 12% are seemingly happy to be in the office for the full 5 working days. The survey also revealed that half of employees would even skip a pay raise if it meant they got their desired flexibility.
Going further into the details of the study, and analysing the working preferences of professionals, it was quite evident that those working in a hybrid manner are the most content with their current work patterns. The majority of hybrid workers, 86% to be precise, would prefer to continue working in the same model, suggesting that this arrangement suits.
Professionals who are currently working full-time onsite, however, seem to be less happy with their work schedule. Only 31% of them would prefer to work full-time onsite, while the majority (66%) would prefer a hybrid work arrangement.
Mismatches in expectations and preferences
This clearly highlights the preference for hybrid work models among the global workforce. Yet, it isn’t just as straightforward as giving the people what they want. Employers are likely to have different perceptions and may not be as eager for hybrid working to be so prolific…and our research highlighted just that.
56% of companies globally are asking staff to come back into the office more regularly than this time last year.
The mismatch in expectations between employers and employees isn't just a minor concern; it has significant implications.
For employers, not meeting the demand for flexibility can limit the range of potential candidates when hiring. And it's not just about attracting talent, it's also about keeping them. If you change the flexibility you offer to existing employees, you run the risk of higher turnover.
Our research also showed the potential attrition of employees who were not given a choice to work in a hybrid way. Out of all professionals who responded worldwide, 56% of respondents who work onsite five days a week are the ones most actively looking for a new job in the next six months.
It's quite interesting to note that, compared to hybrid employees (41%), fully remote employees have a slightly higher rate (44%) of actively seeking out new opportunities. This shows that spending some time at the office may be beneficial for strengthening the bonds between employees, their employer, and others in the workplace.
It is imperative that organisations take this into account when outlining work arrangements - it’s key to complement employee choices and promote job satisfaction.
Varying flexibility for different seniority levels
The data shows that when choosing flexible work arrangements, businesses appear to take seniority into account. Among the employees who responded to our survey, 'entry level/graduates' predictably have the greatest proportion (46%) of those who work five days a week onsite, whereas 'manager' and ‘senior’ are lower at 30% and 22%, respectively.
But it's important to think about the possible ramifications of this current pattern. It may be questionable whether it is even productive to have less experienced people onsite more often if senior or management-level employees are not in the office as frequently as their more junior counterparts.
The whole idea behind asking junior employees to spend more time in the workplace is to encourage learning and knowledge sharing among colleagues, as well as to get an understanding of the work environment and your culture. If senior employees are not present enough at the office for leadership and mentoring, the balance is distorted and the very purpose of office presence is diminished.
This observation highlights the necessity for organisations to carefully consider how employees with varying levels of seniority are distributed between onsite and hybrid or remote work in order to maintain a growth-oriented work environment.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to hybrid working
Hybrid work arrangements are unquestionably in demand, but it's important to recognise that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
To maximise efficiency and effectiveness, different work patterns are required for different job types and industries. While certain jobs demand a different strategy, others can be completed remotely just as successfully as they can be done in-person.
For example, industries such as Technology, Projects & Change, and Sales & Marketing are more conducive to working in hybrid patterns. A large portion of the tasks in these fields do not necessarily require face-to-face communication. According to our data, just 24% of professionals in Sales & Marketing, 20% of professionals in Technology, and 18% of professionals in Projects & Change work onsite five days a week.
In contrast, those working in Life Sciences & Engineering and Supply Chain & Procurement need to be onsite to carry out tasks such as lab work, equipment maintenance, or direct supplier coordination. We found that within these domains, 52% of professionals in Life Sciences & Engineering and 44% of professionals in Supply Chain & Procurement are present onsite for five days every week.
Interestingly, 62% of professionals working in Life Sciences and Engineering would be prepared to skip a pay rise if it meant they get their desired flexibility in working patterns - the appetite for flexibility is clearly there, but the role demands do not seem to allow it.
These findings highlight the unique requirements of different industries and roles. It is down to the employer and managers to ensure their teams and individual employees are working in patterns that mean they can perform to their best abilities.
Impacting employee satisfaction
The major factors influencing productivity at work are job security, job satisfaction, and engagement.
61% of hiring managers reported flexible working patterns as the most important factor leading to successful talent attraction and hiring.
If team members aren’t getting the flexibility they want, they could become disengaged and even search for opportunities that are more accommodating of their work-life balance. From our research, 73% of employers responded that they have lost staff in the last six months and flagged salary, as well as lack of flexibility, as the primary reasons for their attrition.
When examining how satisfied employees are with the benefits they receive, which include flexibility for remote and hybrid workers, it's noteworthy that those who are onsite full-time express the least satisfaction. Regarding their benefits packages, 35% of onsite professionals said they were "dissatisfied" or "highly dissatisfied". To compare, just 20% of hybrid workers and 21% of fully remote workers expressed discontent with the benefits they receive.
Professionals with a hybrid work pattern report feeling the most secure in their current jobs (57%), and they also report the lowest levels of insecurity (24%). However, the largest number of insecure respondents were remote workers (34%), which could be attributed to fears about them becoming "out of sight, out of mind."
Employers who seek to alleviate these worries should take extra caution when communicating with employees who are not as physically present at work.
All this shows that hybrid working seems to be the best approach for optimum satisfaction and security - having the blend of in-person interaction, whilst benefiting from flexibility in working patterns.
An opportunity for some to shine
Hybrid working presents an invaluable opportunity to small to medium-sized companies to get ahead in the search for top talent. Smaller organisations are able to be more fluid in the flexibility they offer compared to the bigger companies with more rigid structures, providing the kind of adaptability and levels of freedom that many job seekers look for in an employer.
If they can't match the big players in terms of salary, a flexible work schedule and a more agile environment can act as significant pulling factors for talent.
The challenges businesses are grappling with
Our global survey found that 56% of companies are asking staff to come back into the office more regularly. But when looking more specifically at certain countries, it seems that the APAC region is particularly eager to get back to more in-office presence.
Whilst only 40% of employers in the UK, 40% in Canada and 42% in Ireland are now asking their employees to be in the office more regularly than they were in 2022, the picture is rather different in Hong Kong (91%), Australia (65%), Japan (62%), Singapore (61%), and China (59%).
There are a number of reasons why companies are making this call, including the most prominent being ‘to improve collaboration between employees’, followed by ‘to reinforce culture’ and ‘to improve performance’. This shows that while hybrid working has its share of benefits, it's not without challenges too.
Communication can be a tough nut to crack in a hybrid environment. Keeping teams connected, whether they're at home or in the office, requires a thoughtful approach. With strong communication, you can ensure your teams keep their productivity levels high.
Then there's employee wellbeing. While hybrid work can improve work-life balance, it can also lead to feelings of isolation and burnout. Businesses must proactively address potential wellbeing issues and provide support accordingly.
Maintaining a strong company culture and fostering team cohesion can be a significant challenge in a dispersed workforce. It calls for creativity in team-building exercises and regular check-ins to maintain that all important human connection between team members.
Some other organisational challenges include:
- Legal and Compliance issues: Navigating labour laws, tax regulations, and data privacy concerns can be complex when employees work across different locations and jurisdictions.
- Remote onboarding challenges for entry-level roles: Remote onboarding can be a real puzzle, especially for entry-level positions that often thrive on hands-on learning from colleagues. Without the in-person experience, the natural flow of knowledge transfer can be disrupted.
- Inconsistent workstation setups: Not everyone has equal access to the necessary technology or facilities for remote work. An inadequate place to work, and poor internet connectivity can hamper productivity.
- Security risks: Remote work can expose businesses to increased cybersecurity threats, demanding the implementation of robust security measures and employee training to protect sensitive data.
- Inclusivity and Equity: Companies must ensure that hybrid working is inclusive and doesn't inadvertently disadvantage certain groups of employees.
- Transitioning to a hybrid model: The transition from a traditional office-based model to a hybrid one can be challenging, necessitating changes in policies, procedures, and company culture.
Companies must adapt by addressing technological disparities, fostering communication, prioritising employee wellbeing, and ensuring compliance with regulations.
For hybrid junior new starters, regular video meetings, virtual mentorship programs, structured training, and clear communication channels ensure that even in a remote setting, they get the support needed to learn and grow.
Are managers the superstars of the hybrid work era?
With great flexibility comes the need for a different approach to workforce monitoring and evolving managerial responsibilities. Employers are embracing new technologies and strategies to ensure remote teams remain productive. This includes using productivity-tracking tools, maintaining open lines of communication and, most importantly, building trust.
In the world of remote work, data plays a pivotal role. When you can't physically see what your team is up to, tracking progress and having solid reporting mechanisms become even more critical. Trustworthy data trails are like a roadmap, guiding managers to understand productivity and performance levels.
“It's not just about keeping tabs; it's about keeping work on course and achieving your goals.”
In a remote setting, data acts as the bridge that connects managers with their teams, accountability and transparency, all contributing to the success of the business.
Managers play a pivotal role in this equation; they must now focus on outcomes rather than hours logged. Ensuring teams stay engaged and connected, making a conscious effort to foster a strong company culture, and addressing any mental health concerns are all part of the new normal.
Designing a productive and inclusive future for everyone with hybrid working
Flexibility is at the core of this new working model, but it's not without its challenges. If everyone understands what their role is in making this new system work well (and what happens if they don't), then everyone wins. The key to success is getting employers and employees on the same page.
With the right strategies and a forward-thinking approach, businesses can thrive in the era of hybrid work, creating a more inclusive, productive, and resilient workforce.